In the past month or so, it seems there have been no end of public guestimations from pundits about when North American roads will be taken over by autonomous cars and trucks. Of course the estimates vary wildly. I’ve seen opinions ranging anywhere from next week to never.
And while all that broader discussion is going on outside of agriculture, there was a relatively quiet announcement this week that the first autonomous field machine for broad-acre farming is now officially on the market. As has been the case up until now, agriculture is forging ahead on the robotics front, with numerous specialty machines already long in service, such as those in dairy barns.
The specific announcement I’m referring to is about the DOT autonomous carrier that was developed by SeedMaster founder Norbert Beaujot and his engineering team. It made its public debut at the Ag in Motion farm show near Saskatoon last summer.
The marketing team working for DOT Technology Corp., the spinoff company created to further develop and retail DOT the machine, made it plain early on that it was set for a very limited market release in 2018, mostly to accommodate wide ranging field trials. But with the announcement this week that the company was now accepting deposits from customers, the robot is now officially on the market.
I had chance to browse through the “reservation agreement”, which asks for a $1,000 deposit to get on to the waiting list for a DOT. The company says that will hold a spot for potential buyers to take delivery of one during the four years commencing in 2019. The announcement and reservation agreement can be accessed through the company website, seedotrun.com
When I last spoke to anyone from DOT or SeedMaster, the plan was to have about six DOT machines in field trials on farms around Regina this spring. It looks like the commercial order timeline takes that into account, with the first production run scheduled for 2019 deliveries, although the agreement does leave a bit of wiggle room for adjusting the initial production date a bit.
The company notes the compatible attachments that will be available for DOTs initially will be those it showed at AIM, a seeder, sprayer, grain cart and land roller.
Initially, at least, the company is looking for the right buyers, and it has spelled out the conditions producers will have to meet to be eligible to get on the waiting list. First of all, interested persons will have to confirm they don’t have any direct or indirect interest in a competing company.
Second, to reserve one DOT, producers will have to certify they farm at least 1,000 acres. Those producers who want an additional machine can reserve one for every 2,000 acres in their operation.
Reservations are being accepted on a first-come-first-served basis, and the company says they expect to sell out the initial production runs. Assuming they’re right, those who want to be on the cutting edge of what is poised to be the newest trend in dry-land farming may need to make a decision soon.
And here’s the answer to the question most people have likely been thinking about: how much will a DOT cost? The company hasn’t nailed it down to the penny yet. (Yes, I know. Pennies are extinct.) But it estimates the MSRP will be approximately US$250,000 for the DOT carrier. Attachments are not included in that price.
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